Interrupting whiteness

Scholarship & Implications


Specific recommendations for teacher education

Matias, C. (2013). Check yo’self before you wreck yo’self and our kids: Counterstories from culturally responsive white teachers? . . . To culturally responsive white teachers! Interdisciplinary Journal of Teaching and Learning, 3(2), 68-81.


Overview of the challenge:

·  If those of us identified as white teachers (and teacher educators) want to support healthy racial identity development for students of color, it is imperative that they/we investigate their/our own whiteness and engage in deep self-examination. This is necessary because “whiteness operates as invisible to a majority of White teachers while visible to many students of color; and it provides a nuanced understanding of how race, racism, and white supremacy operate in our schools and society”(Matias, 2013, p.68).

·  We are invited to critique the “white liberalist educational training” which focuses on learning about the “other” instead of self-reflection and self-examination.

·  This self-reflection can help white-identified teachers to go “beyond fulfilling White teachers’ self-gratification of saving students of color [and instead] rethink their emotionality so that they can provide the authentic care and love needed to teach students of color?”(p.71). Matias asserts that many white-identified teacher candidates “are not aware of, nor are they prepared for, how emotionally draining, mentally taxing, and vulnerable they must make themselves in order to be true White allies”(p.73).

·  In our teacher education work, we must acknowledge that here is no “culturally competent checklist for understanding how to teach and relate to students of color, and by mastering it, they become culturally competent”(p.73).

What we need to do:

·  “…Instead of focusing only on students of color in urban teacher education, White teacher candidates need to first learn about their white selves.”(p.78)

What this might look like in practice:

·  “White teacher candidates need to re-experience the pain of racism. This can be done by drawing from narrative articles of scholars of color that depict the emotional trauma of racism and white antiracist scholarship on the emotional shift of becoming a white ally”(p.78).

Bree Picower (2009). The unexamined Whiteness of teaching: how White teachers maintain and enact dominant racial ideologies. Race Ethnicity and Education, 12(2), 197-215.


·  Include a separate course on critical multicultural education

·  Include regular opportunities for both self-reflection and instruction about historical oppression and current educational inequity

·  Require teacher education faculty to have had successful teaching experiences in urban public schools

People & places:

·  Increase the number of teacher educators of color

·  Recruit more pre-service teachers of color who are committed to equity and social justice in urban schools

·  Provide opportunities for the larger community to participate in the preparation of teachers – including classroom teachers, parents, community leaders, educational activists, researchers, K-12 students and others

o   Involve as in-class guest speakers, mentors, panel participants, or offer sites for field trips

·  Create student teaching placements in urban schools as sites for critical multicultural inquiry

o   Develop relationships with children and families that can challenge pre-service teachers’ stereotypes

o   Recruit university supervisors who are themselves comfortable and effective in urban settings and who also see the goal of anti-racism development as a part of their job responsibility

·  Involve alumni in ongoing critical inquiry groups (Duncan-Andrade 2005; Picower 2007) that encourage dialogue, debriefing, reading, and curriculum planning that offer general support to help first-year teachers interrupt whiteness

Christine E. Sleeter,   2017. Critical Race Theory and the Whiteness of Teacher Education. Urban Education 52(2), 155–169.

·  Continue to contend with problematic policies such as testing and funding and relationships with the larger university that keep students of color out of teacher preparation programs

·  Confront and address whiteness by

o   Improving university–school partnerships (Ukpokodu, 2014)

o   Strengthening pipelines for students of color to enroll in the university and its urban-focused teacher preparation programs (Ukpokodu, 2014; Bartow, et al, 2014)

o   Substantially restructuring teacher preparation programs through sustained engagement with the local community (Zygmunt & Clark, 2015)

·  Utilize Milner’s (2008) theory of disruptive movement in teacher education that extrapolates core principles from social movements:

1. Work with a common agenda and as a unified collective

2. Take account of contextual issues, realities, and resources – local work is necessary

3. Use evidence of impacts of past practices and trends to make a case for changes for the future

4. The primary concern is with collective rather than individual benefits

5. Movements involve persistent long-term work

·  Broaden the range of voices at the table through long-term collaboration with members of communities of color (including teachers of color in local schools) who are not in the academy

·  Sleeter and Montecinos (1999) recommend that teacher educators, including social justice–minded professionals, recognize limitations to their own professional knowledge.

Schieble, M. (2012). Critical conversations on whiteness with young adult literature. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 56(3), 212-221.

Offer exemplars of classroom practice in which teachers critique whiteness:

·  One way of engaging (and critiquing) whiteness in classroom practice is through facilitating conversations with Young Adult Literature (YAL).

·  Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Critical Literacy (CL) are lenses for interrogating and interrupting Whiteness in ELA classrooms.

·  This offers a model for teacher candidates, as Schieble argues that “without bringing multiple representations of whiteness into the discussion, whiteness remains unseen and normalized”(p.214).

A model for practice:

·  An approach we might share with teacher candidates: students can be invited to rewrite and reimagine “characters and events from texts”(p.220). In this way, students become aware of texts as representation of the world, and they can work to imagine and name the world differently. This is one way to introduce critical perspectives and practices.

Vetter, A. Schieble, M. and Meacham M. (2018). Critical conversations in English education: Discursive strategies for examining how teacher and student identities shape classroom discourse. English Education, 50(3), 255-282.

Explore how racial identities and positions are constructed through discourse:

·  Use videoed lessons to study how teachers and students co-construct social positions through language.

·  This article documents how “preservice teachers in a university classroom used discourse analysis of video-recorded lessons to explore how identity markers such as race shaped classroom interactions”(p.255). Based on these lessons, the researchers generated 10 different discursive strategies to engage in critical conversations on race and other categories of identity.

Focus on how language choices can build, interrupt, or solidify identities:

·  Vetter, Schieble, and Meacham argue that “teachers need to be critically aware of how their language choices, and how the Discourses to which they subscribe and circulate, operate to privilege some students over others and play a major factor in students’ opportunities and material experiences in school and beyond”(p.258).

·  The discursive strategies in use (and recommended as catalysts for critical conversations) are noticing and naming, relating, connecting to teaching experiences, expressing a dilemma, monitoring, strategizing, articulating, questioning, sharing and listening, and hedging.

How we might use these strategies:

·  Encourage teacher candidates to investigate both their own and others’ teaching practices, as these investigations can offer starting points for authentic approaches to these dialogues about race and whiteness (among other critical conversations) in real classrooms.

Borsheim-Black, C. (2015). ” It’s pretty much white”: Challenges and opportunities of an antiracist approach to literature instruction in a multilayered white context. Research in the Teaching of English, 407-429.

Berchini, C. (2019). Reconceptualizing Whiteness in English Education: Failure, Fraughtness, and Accounting for Context. English Education51(2), 151-181.

Borsheim-Black, C. & Sarigianides, S.T. (2019). Letting Go of Literary Whiteness: Antiracist Instruction for White Students. New York: Teachers College Press. 

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